28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for November 2012

Cut loose

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More dedicated readers will have realized that I have not posted recently. This is due to a difficulty that will likely plague me for the next few months — I no longer have a computer.

Though I should still be able to compose posts, like this one, from less-mobile computers as I am able to access them, the frequency of such posts will certainly decrease.

I hope that those who have found this blog worth perusing will not be discouraged. If I am unable to resolve the issue in the near future, I should certainly be back on track within seven months.

Cheers,

M. James

Written by M. James

November 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Posted in News

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Prospects for a liberal Turkish society

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The following was written as a guest post for Atatürk’s Republic, a collaborative blog that seeks to follow Turkish news, politics, arts, and culture.

Most liberal-minded individuals, if asked to choose between a multi-party and a two-party system, would choose the former. After all, liberal democracy is all about freedom of choice, and choosing between chocolate and vanilla is simply not satisfying when one might prefer pistachio, cookie dough, or “Karamel Sutra.”

But what most people do not seem to understand is that representative democracies are designed to be deliberative bodies, the essence of which is “settling.” Without “settling,” the liberal concept of value pluralism goes out the window, and with it, the very basis for our conception of a free and fair society.

If the voter refuses to “settle” on chocolate or vanilla, and instead prefers everyone to have a broader range of options, one of two things will happen:

(1) Once the voting is over and done with, the vast array of flavors will seek to mix themselves with whatever will give them a strategic advantage in legislation. Pistachio will mix with “Karamel Sutra,” and the sweet-and-sticky combination will satisfy neither pistachio- nor caramel-lovers. The concept of political parties as principled factions is lost completely when the principles are cast aside for expediency, as inevitably occurs in this case.* What’s more, banana and rocky road will be ignored completely.

(2) Chocolate will acquire a tyrannical rule owing solely to vanilla-lovers’ slight preference for a variety of other flavors, which will never attain a majority—and if they do, it will be dishonestly, by coalition. The party that is capable of organizing itself and sowing discord among the opposition will acquire, and keep, power.

In the first consequence, the purpose of the political party (democratically forwarding principles at the state level) is lost in a mindless scramble for power by majority. In the second, the state becomes as tyrannical as in a de jure “one-party system.”

This is one arena in today’s politics in which we cannot practically hope to expand the scope of individual freedoms. In order to maintain the classical liberal, laissez faire idea of “freedom from” (which is necessarily prior to the expansion of “freedom to” in a liberal state), the multi-party system must be shunned in favor of a two-party system and the citizen must take it upon himself to begin the “settling” process by choosing from a limited number of representatives.

Paradoxically, the severe limitation of choice necessitated by a two-party system is characteristic of a much more liberal, democratic system. It not only protects the people from tyranny and maintains the possibility of value pluralism, but it also entrusts the people with beginning the all-important, essentially liberal “settling” process that continues in the legislature.

Because this is not obvious to the average voter, a two-party system must be somehow (overtly or otherwise) established from above by strong tradition, or a constitution, in order to establish a liberal, democratic state. Only if a liberal tradition is pre-existing, if the power of the legislature is severely tempered, or if a country is ideologically homogeneous, can a multi-party system survive as “liberal.”

Of course, my interest in exploring this problem lies in the Republic of Turkey, which has a large, heterogeneous population, a powerful parliament, no tradition of liberalism to speak of, and a multi-party system. Predictably, Turkish society and government are grossly (visibly) illiberal.

From two different Turkish liberals in a period of two days, I heard the complaint that Turks vote on (a) emotions and (b) “lifestyle.” Kurds vote for Kurds (actually they don’t, but that’s a different story—they do still vote based on lifestyle), Anatolian Sunni Muslims vote for Anatolian Sunni Muslims, nationalists vote for nationalists, etc. Because of this fragmentation—this variety of flavors—no responsibility to compromise is ever placed on the voter. The result is an instance of consequence (2) above, where one party dominates the state. Half of Turkey may not want to have vanilla, but they couldn’t—and will never be able to—agree on chocolate.

And with a party in power that benefits from the disorder of the multi-party system, it is fairly unlikely that a two-party system will be enforced from above in the form of a new constitution, or otherwise.

What’s more, because the last decade has shown Turkey’s material success to be tied to economic, but certainly not social, liberalism, it is to be expected that Turkey’s near future will be characterized only nominally by “liberal democracy.”

If Turkish citizens are never confronted with the spirit of “settling” between the many flavors that they prefer, and are never themselves faced with the idea of value pluralism, they will never become liberal democratic citizens. And what more is a liberal democratic society than the collective conscience of its citizens?

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*Some would aver that an effective two-party system is necessarily unprincipled if the opposing parties wish to shape themselves according to shifting public sensibilities. There are two responses: (1) That this is acceptable because their principles shift in order to garner votes, but do not shift while they hold offices, and they are able to remain honest to their principles for a given term. (2) That the only principle that truly matters is a faithful attempt at maintaining a two-party system for its own sake, as a safeguard against tyranny.

Written by M. James

November 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

Davutoğlu visits Yemen

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A smaller business delegation than the one that visited post-revolution Egypt, but the effect is the same—an economic, and potential geographical, win for Turkey:

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu paid an official visit to Yemen
Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu paid an official visit to Yemen on 20-21 October 2012. Foreign Minister Davutoğlu was received by Mr. Abdu Rabbu Mansour, the President of Yemen and Mr. Mohammed Salem Basendwah, Prime Minister of Yemen. He also met with Mr. Abu Bakr Abdullah Al-Qırbi, Foreign Minister of Yemen and some other senior officials. On the occasion of the visit, a delegation consisting of approximately 150 businessmen also held contacts with the business community in Yemen.

Foreign Minister Davutoğlu stated that Turkey would like to further develop its economic cooperation with Yemen and the 100 million Dollar donation committed by Turkey to Yemen would be provided through bilateral projects.

As part of his contacts in Yemen, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu attended the Turkey-Yemen Business Forum with the accompanying business delegation. “Turkey wants to be among the top three countries with which Yemen trades” said Foreign Minister Davutoğlu pointing out that for the economic development of Yemen, Turkey was ready to cooperate in every field.

Written by M. James

November 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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